Book Review: Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

Do androids dream? Rick asked himself

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? is a science fiction, post-apocalyptic novel by Philip K. Dick. It is set on Earth, which has been damaged by a global nuclear war. The book is about Rick Deckard, a bounty hunter who is tasked with destroying escaped androids that are too human-like and have gone rogue.

I really liked this book – I read it in just under two days.

The only other work I’ve read by Philip K. Dick was The Man In The High Castle, which I had mixed opinions about. You can read my review of it here.

In comparison, I much preferred Androids. There are lots of science fiction motifs that don’t weigh the narrative down with jargon as things are clearly explained throughout.

I especially liked the Mood Organ, a device with the ability to change the user’s emotional state at the press of a button. It’s simultaneously desirable – to help you get over bad moods – and problematic, as anyone who has access to your Mood Organ has access, and therefore control, over your inner emotions and thoughts.

Androids, like The Man In The High Castle, was very character driven. This time however, I actually found all the main characters likeable and interesting in different ways.

Although, in some places, I thought Androids was a little too theological and philosophical when discussing the godlike figure of Mercer (which I still don’t fully understand) but this didn’t trip me up enough to spoil my reading.

The title: Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? is a nod to Rick’s desire to own a real, living animal but only owns an electric imitation sheep. Most animals became extinct in the wake of the nuclear war, dying of radiation poisoning. However, his neighbours believe his sheep is real, granting him a perceived level of status. Yet it raises the question; if Rick’s neighbours already believe an electronic imitation is real, what difference does it make if it isn’t?

The narrative was quite dark in places, with some sinister but enjoyable plot twists. Androids introduces themes such as empathy and sympathy, reality versus artifice and questions what it really means to be human, a question I think is a prevalent subject in popular culture today.

Robotics is a modern science which seems to have become even more popular in recent years. Channel 4 adapted Philip K. Dick’s short stories into a sci-fi anthology series just last year – titled Philip K. Dick’s Electric Dreams – and in 2015, the TV series Humans made its debut, exploring robotics, artificial intelligence and the social impact of increasingly human-like androids on families and the world.

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? is a fascinating and entertaining read –  I definitely recommend.

– Judith

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Book Review: Brave New World

In the not-too-distant future, genetic science and applied psychology have bred an ideal society. There’s no disease, no-one ages and everyone is perfectly content, conditioned to serve the greater World State. Everyone, that is, but Bernard Marx.

‘”How can I?” he repeated.

“No, the real problem is: How is it that I can’t?”‘

Similarly to Orwell’s 1984, Brave New World by Aldous Huxley is about an all-powerful state, that controls the behaviour and actions of the population to preserve its own stability and power. It is set in a futuristic London, where citizens are engineered through artificial wombs and indoctrinated into predetermined castes.

There are three main characters: Lenina Crowne, popular and sexually desirable, Bernard, a lower-caste man who is not popular nor desirable, and John the Savage, a man in exile because he was conceived and born naturally.

Each perspective reveals an aspect of this new world to the reader.

‘”You got rid of them. Yes, that’s just like you. Getting rid of everything unpleasant instead of learning to put up with it.”‘

Bernard is initially heroic, inwardly critiquing the regime and encouraging individuality of the self. Lenina is treated like a piece of meat, and doesn’t seem to notice or care because ‘every one belongs to every one else, after all’. That is, until she becomes confused by feelings of desire and attraction. John is horrified by the thoughts and actions of the citizens, whose sexually promiscuous, drug-induced, shallow and self-centred behaviour clashes with his own views.

Brave New World was really quite weird to read.

The first chapter opens on a tour around a Willy Wonka-esque factory, except it is not chocolate that is being manufactured, but humans. The unusual scientific jargon continues throughout the book, so it was difficult to follow everything that was happening.

The themes of control and consumerism are portrayed in a striking and unsettling way. Instead of faith systems, there is instead a high reverence for technology, sex, and drugs – known as Soma – which clouds citizens’ thoughts and memories to reinforce the belief that life is good.

‘”What you need, is something with tears for a change. Nothing costs enough here.”‘

This is abundantly clear in the replacement of the name of God with the Henry Ford, the founder of the Ford Motor Company. As characters utters exclamations such as ‘My Ford’ and the ‘Year of our Ford’ – and it is no coincidence that ‘Lord’ and ‘Ford’ rhyme – this underlines the real issue of this new world; not that religion doesn’t exist, but that any free-thinking and all forms of belief have been eradicated and controlled by the state.

Brave New World has startlingly violent moments designed to shock, rather than satirise – particularly in the ending. I think it is one of the most horrific dystopian novels I’ve read.

I still don’t fully understand this book, but if you want to be horrified and intrigued by dystopian literature, I suggest you try Brave New World.

– Judith

 

Book Review: Starclimber

Starclimber is the final book of the Airborn trilogy by Kenneth Oppel, a series of young adult steampunk books, set in a world where the aeroplane has not yet been invented. You can read my review of Airborn, the first book, here and my review of Skybreaker, the second book, here.

As the title may suggest, Starclimber is an adventure into outer space. The protagonists Matt Cruse and Kate de Vries board the Starclimber ship and journey to the stars. Kate is determined to escape the constrictions of upper-class society, as well as prove there is life beyond Earth, and Matt wants to prove his worth both as an “astralnaut” and a man worthy of Kate’s affections.

Starclimber begins with another exciting opening – every start to the Airborn series has been full of action and interesting characterisation – but unfortunately, the plot was pretty much the same to its predecessors Skybreaker and Airborn. In my Skybreaker review, despite my praise for Oppel’s storytelling, I said my expectations were for the next book to breakaway from the same narrative, with the same character stereotypes and narrative arc. Sadly though, my expectations weren’t met.

There is danger, there is adventure, there is a traitor, there is conflict between Matt and Kate, there is a discovery of a new species, there is a friend to provide comfort and comic relief; all of which has happened before. This was a little frustrating because although I knew I was reading a new book, it felt like reading the same story again!

Speaking of Matt and Kate, Kate develops into a horrible young woman. She claims she is criticised for being independent and headstrong, and so joins the suffragette movement to empower herself. Yet, this is not the Kate de Vries which has been presented to the reader at any point. Throughout Starclimber, Kate is nothing but rude, haughty and selfish. Yet when Sir Hugh Snuffler, Kate’s scientific rival, displays these same characteristics, he is met with disapproval by the other characters, and is subsequently made the butt of all the jokes.

To me, this came across as if it’s perfectly acceptable for women to be rude … because of feminism, but men aren’t allowed to be rude … because the author said so.

In my first review, I criticised Airborn for using the word ‘tingle’ to describe absolutely everything Matt felt. In Starclimber, the word ‘chuckle’ was used far too frequently – 24 times to be precise – in a short span of pages, so I would read the word ‘chuckle’ every 3 pages or so. This is a word I particularly have a grudge against anyway, so it was really quite difficult to convince myself to continue reading the story!

However, despite my annoyances with the characters, and their incessant chuckling, I did really like the plot of Starclimber.

Its action sequences felt the most dangerous and exciting out of any of the series, perhaps because space is still so unknown to today’s readers; anything can happen, and the risks of space travel are still immense. I thought Oppel’s designed method of space travel, rising up a reinforced, electrified cable, was a really creative way of imagining old-fashioned space travel.

Furthermore, the ending was sweet, and tied up the series really well – so often nowadays stories get dragged out by unnecessary cliff-hangers and more sequels, so it was nice that this series had a definitive ending. In a way, I’m sad there aren’t any more books, but I also think the stories work well as a trilogy, and to add more would spoil that.

If you’ve read Airborn and Skybreaker, I recommend Starclimber. If I had to choose a favourite of the series however, I’d probably choose Skybreaker.

– Judith